The lost women of rock music
Female musicians of the punk era
Books written by academics have a different style. They are historical artefacts and every statement is backed up by examples. This book is of that genre but it’s central theme is so important. How awful is it that we are still discussing the need for over half the population to be treated equally. It should be a case where as Johnny rotten said of the Pistols era “women were out there playing with men, on equal terms. It wasn’t combatative it was comparable.” 40 years later we still need reminding of it.
Punk emerged in a time of desperation. Looking back it seems obvious that something would emerge in that time. People felt voiceless, useless almost. Punk rock broke through society’s expectations. That women would have been comparable in that breakthrough is really no surprise. They were standing up against the norms perpetrated by the establishment. The idea that Women’s place was in the home rather than in bands was still very prevalent. Strong women put two fingers up to that notion. Punk bands starting point really was that anyone can be in a band, playing ability was secondary and this opened up new possibilities for a generation regardless of their sex. People now had a belief that they could do it too. The author argues that It wasn’t even an alternative that was blossoming it was an apposition.
After the initial explosion of bands we then had a situation where the music press and commentators felt a need to split bands into genres. Whilst that has been going on in all sorts of media the music press need a label to pin on any band. The sex of the members started to be used. All-girl, female fronted and other labels started being thrown about with abandon. For the people playing their gender didn’t matter but for those describing it (and some trying to sell it) gender and then appearance became an issue. Reddington begins to delve into matters that belong more to a police investigation rather than a book on music as the tales of events that have happened to women start coming through. People being molested on their way to the stage, objectified at every given opportunity and somehow their musical dexterity being aligned to their gender. It is infuriating reading it and such an awful indictment on how society treated some of its people.
Punks initial wave promoted inclusivity through its exclusiveness from the mainstream but as more genres developed and it became a chance to people to make their living from writing and performing their own songs the old prejudices became prevalent once more. As the diy scene drove underground the more commercial elements found women being pushed aside and reddington notes this eloquently. Punk initially took a music business snd indeed society by surprise. However over time the establishment re-established it’s hold. Much like during recessions when capitalism gets the blame we resurface as slightly different beings dedicated to finance and capital, the music business took back their business and moved to its next marketing campaign,. Mtv and the advent of music videos. Women who had found their place were once more being objectified and treated unequally. These people believed in what they were doing and for many it was being part of an opposition, so much more than just music.
Reddington talks of her Brighton scene which could just as easily be Dublin. New venues were popping up and although a community was growing there was still those out to cause trouble. In dublins case toilet cisterns were smashed, and trouble seemed to follow gigs around. Brighton had that undercurrent of aggression and the author questions whether this had an effect on female representation. However community seems to have won out. People encouraged their peers in the main and equipment along with knowledge was shared.
As with most academic tomes events are dissected and resins are sought out for people doing what they did. Context is sought and in 70s Britain there sure was a lot of anger. Thatcher tried to bottle that amongst everything and sell it as the opposition moved underground but remained in large numbers.
One question Reddington, who played bass in the Chefs, asks near the end of the book “How could the music I had been involved with had felt so important and revolutionary at the time yet have no impact on the history of rock’n’roll”
There are two distinct answers. The new order restored order that punk rock threatened to smash or there’s a generation playing in bands that don’t care what gender their band yes are and playing to an audience whose interest is purely in the music and the message.
I belong to the latter and am glad that opposition still exists and have been influenced by many trailblazers from the 70s. For that I thank them. Sincerely.